By opposing Padmaavat, Hardik Patel is proving his critics right

The 24-year-old's support for Karni Sena’s stand shows he is just another caste leader.

 |  4-minute read |   24-01-2018
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The madness over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat refuses to end, with violent protests being staged and cinema halls being vandalised in several states, even as the prime minister is yet to come forward and condemn it.

Sadly, a boorish caste collective, the Karni Sena (with its many factions), seems to have been universally accepted as the mouthpiece of all Rajputs, with several politicians and state ministers backing its cause.

Gujarat has witnessed protests against Padmaavat. Photo: PTIGujarat has witnessed protests against Padmaavat. Photo: PTI

The latest to voice their concern about Rajput pride are Patidar leader Hardik Patel and newly elected Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor.

As Ahmedabad and other cities in Gujarat saw roads blocked and vehicles burnt to protest the movie, Hardik wrote an open letter to CM Vijay Rupani: “We respect the Supreme Court of India but the Kshatriya community (Rajputs) offered their royal states at the feet of Ma Bharati (Mother India) with closed eyes in order to ensure the unity and strength of this country. Therefore, it is the duty of one and all to ensure that the honour of this Rajput community is not lowered (due to a film). If Padmaavat is released in Gujarat, the responsibility of the consequences and law and order will rest upon the government.”

While it is nice of Hardik to clarify that he respects the Supreme Court, the last line reads far too much like a threat. Coming from a man who has made BJP’s “fascism” a war cry, it is ironical at best, hypocritical at worst.

After the recent high-voltage Gujarat elections saw the BJP’s tally come down despite the PM leading the charge himself, a major share of the credit came the way of Patel, Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani.

Hardik with his rallies had been causing trouble for the BJP government since 2015. While many saw him as the next young leader who could shake things up in Indian politics, others pointed out that the central plank of his agitation – quota for Patidars – was flawed, and only deepened caste-based polarisations.

Hardik was too young to contest the 2017 Assembly polls, and was feted mainly because of his ability to attract massive crowds to his rallies. However, between now and 2019 is the time that the 24-year-old needs to grow as a leader, spelling out his stand on various issues, taking a clear ideological position. After the elections, he had been lying low, and Padmaavat is the first major issue on which he has weighed in.

Before the 2019 General Elections are upon us, Hardik can either emerge as a youth leader with universal appeal, keeping up the pressure on the government over issues of unemployment, farmers’ issues and the state of higher education, or stay imprisoned within the identity that first gave him popularity – the leader of one particular caste.

Hardik is 24 years old. He has been vocal against the BJP, accusing the party and the RSS of dividing the country along communal lines. These are valid concerns, and the country needs leaders with sizeable support bases to highlight them.

However, Hardik will have little authority to raise them if he backs lumpen elements such as the Karni Sena, who currently seem to be on a mission to test how far they can go as governments wary of antagonising Rajputs handle them with kid gloves ahead of polls in several states.  

The extent to which one group has been able to hold law and order to ransom in the country, against the CBFC’s decision over a movie and in defiance of the Supreme Court’s orders, is a major failure on part of the BJP government at the Centre and in the states.

This could have been a good opportunity for Hardik to position himself vis-a-vis the BJP as a saner voice who respects constitutional bodies and is against vandalism in the name of honour. However, the route he has taken confirms the criticism against him – that he is nothing more than a caste leader extending sympathy to another such collective.

Hardik’s opposing the BJP has meaning only if he opposes its regressive Hindu supremacist stances. Backing a group that is violating the law by taking to absurd lengths the notion of a community’s honour is definitely not the way to do it.

Every time identities become the major rallying point in any election, genuine issues of development and growth take a back seat. Already, the Congress and the Patel-Thakor-Mevani troika are being accused of tackling the BJP’s communal pitch with caste-based polarisation.

Thakor and Hardik’s stand on Padmaavat seems to confirm this, diminishing the hopes of any achhe din for our democracy.

Also read: Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat is actually about 'good Hindus' and 'bad Muslims'

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